Want to Stop Being Afraid? Step 1: Remember God

Welcome to the first in a series here at Patheos to follow up on my post How to Stop Being Afraid with wisdom from Psalm 46.

It seems simple enough. But I, for one, am quick to forget it when I consider the How to Stop Being Afraid. The first step according to Psalm 46 is remembering who God is.

Sounds too easy, I know. It’s when we think that we must face the challenges of life on our own that we tremble in fear.

Confession of a Cowardly Principal

Perhaps a personal story will illustrate. Several years ago when I was serving as the principal of a thriving Christian school, a basketball official made several terrible calls (no surprise there) during a game. One fan from the opposing team protested from the stands. The official stopped the game and threw the fan out of the gym.

For those of you who don’t know how high school sports work, when the official throws a fan out of the game, he or she doesn’t actually throw them out. They tell them to go. It is then up to the home team school administration to ensure that the offending fan leaves the gym. If not, the official will penalize the home team.

In this instance, the fan continued to protest as he moved slowly toward the door. Finally, he stopped just inside the door, waiting to see if the official would notice. He did. I happened to be sitting right there. The official came over and repeated the last warning for the fan to leave.

The fan finally did with a huff and a puff, grumbling something unintelligible but likely not supportive. I sat there for just a minute debating how to handle the situation. I agreed with the fan that the officials were pretty bad. And yet I had a duty to ensure everyone was kept safe, no fists punched through walls, etc. Still, I’d rather not end up on a YouTube video for another episode of “Fans Gone Wild.”

I must confess to feeling a little bit of fear at the prospect of going out in the hall to face a total stranger who was already pretty angry about something completely out of my control. Then it hit me.

Sitting right next to me was a former student who was now a professional basketball player. Translation, he was pretty tall. And he worked out a lot. Plus he owed me for letting him survive high school.

“Hey,” I leaned over to him covertly. “Come with me for a minute.” Since I still had that principal superpower over him, he stood and followed me. I paused before walking out the door of the gym and told him, “I need to talk to somebody. I just want you to stand behind me.” He did. And all was well.

Now I didn’t really need someone to go with me, of course. Don’t be silly. I could have taken the guy. If I had to. It just helped to know who was standing behind me.

In the same way, the psalmist starts Psalm 46 by reminding us who it is who stands behind us. Or better, who goes before us.

“God is….” He begins with the name of God — Elohim. Whatever else follows is, by definition, secondary. Important, but not the main thing.

Why? There is a relationship between the absence of fear and the acceptance of truth.

A Few Observations about the Place of Faith

A few observations about the psalmist’ choice to start with “God is….”:

  • The hope he gives for overcoming fear applies only to those who believe that God is. Those who do not believe that God exists will find no comfort for overcoming fear in this psalm. All that follows builds on the presupposition that God exists. Sounds harsh. But if we’re going to get rid of fear, we must begin by embracing truth with clarity.
  • The psalmist calls us to start with believing that God is — by faith. “By faith, we understand….” (Heb. 11:3) But our starting point is not some irrational or illogical leap into the unknown and unknowable. That wouldn’t be faith at all. Just stupidity. Faith is not stepping out without rhyme or reason. It is acting based on what you believe to be true rather than on what you feel to be true. “We walk by faith and not by sight.” That’s not to say we don’t feel foolish at times from our perspective. But because “God is,” His perspective is the only one that matters.
  • Faith comes first. You must first believe that God is before you can please him and overcome fear. “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Heb. 11:6 ESV) We must first believe that He is the Elohim who has created all things, who has revealed Himself more completely to His creation through His written Word, and who rewards those who seek to draw near to Him.

If you already believe that the God of the Bible exists, then stay tuned to subsequent posts. There is much hope and wisdom ahead for overcoming fear. If you do not yet believe that God is, stick around. Your next crisis is no time to get curious. See if what follows in future posts doesn’t make some sense to you.

Have you ever had an experience like mine where you had to call for backup? Share your story or thoughts with a comment to help us all live with abundant faith.

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